Recorded by the Oliver Nelson Orchestra
Arranged by Oliver Nelson, Prepared for Publication by Dylan Canterbury, Rob DuBoff, and Jeffrey Sultanof
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Cat #: JLP-7938


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Edition: Jazz Studio Orchestra Arrangement

Description: Swing - Difficult

Publisher: Jazz Lines Publications

Oliver Nelson's Afro/American Sketches, composed and recorded in 1961, began as an idea courtesy of Prestige Records' director of A&R, Esmond Emmonds. After spending time studying the musical traditions of nearly 200 tribes, Nelson composed the entirety of the suite in a little less than two weeks. Its seven movements follow a story that begins on the African continent, suffers the evils of slavery, experiences the temporary joy of rediscovered freedom, expresses the pain of societal oppression, and looks with optimism toward a future that embraces equal rights for all people.

This would be the first big band album of Nelson's career, and can arguably be considered his strongest. It features an impressive lineup of soloists such as flutist Jerry Dodgion, trumpeter Joe Newman, pianist Patti Bown, drummer Ed Shaughnessy, and conguero Ray Barretto, and the rest of the ensemble is made up of the finest studio musicians in New York at the time. Afro/American Sketches is a masterwork that has well withstood the test of time, as its deep and still-relevant themes, unforgettable melodies, and dense harmonies continue to sound fresh and innovative to this day.

Movement 1 - Message:

The centrality of Shaughnessy's drums and Barretto's congas to this piece cannot be understated. Nelson describes in the album's liner notes that the steady drumming pulse is meant to announce the arrival of "men in boats coming up river in great number," and should create a general sense of unease. The gradual entrances of the brass instruments at measure 9 serve as an intense underpinning for a classically tricky Nelson melody in the saxophones. A brief moment of jubilation occurs at measure 25 before the more ominous tone returns a few measures later.

This main melody statement comprises the majority of this movement, played twice and sandwiching two solo sections. The first of these sections, featuring Dodgion's flute, becomes noticeably open-ended harmonically. The second is a showcase for Shaughnessy and Barretto, with bassist Art Davis employing some advanced techniques to contribute to the atmosphere. The second melody statement ends with the horns gradually fading out to leave the percussion to themselves once more, setting the tone of things to come in excellent fashion.

This publication was based on Oliver Nelson's pencil score and the original set of parts used during the 1961 recording session - this is not a transcription.


Full Score
2 Alto Saxophones
Tenor Saxophone
4 Trumpets
4 Horns in F
3 Trombones
2 Celli (Optional)
Acoustic Bass
Drum Set
Conga Drums
Trumpets 1 and 2: E6
Horn 1: Bb5
Trombone 1: Ab4